24 Hour Party People

London is always mentioned in the same breathe as New York, Paris and Tokyo as being one the main cities for popular culture, fashion, things happening, art and all that good shit. But there’s one thing that separates London from everywhere else – its complete lack of late night options. New York is called the city that never sleeps for good reason. You can get whatever you want at whatever time of the day. You need a hammer and some nails at 4am? You need a dozen bagels at midnight? All good. It’s truly 24 hours. Tokyo is pretty much the same from my limited experience, aside from the trains which stop at exactly midnight, but they’re so efficient I’ll give them a pass. London, on the other hand, basically stops from 6pm. Case in point – a couple of days ago I was on my way to work and decided to stop into my local coffee shop and buy myself a coffee. Unfortunately they’d already cleaned out their  machine as they were closing for the day. It was 4:30pm. On a Saturday. Think about that for a minute. Doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous to close that early? As far as I’m aware there are no coffee shops in London that open past 6pm. It’s the same with most museums, galleries and shops. After 6pm your options are either go out to eat or go the pub.

Why does nowhere open past 6pm? I’m sure part of it goes back to Juedo-Christian laws and traditions (shout out to my A-Level RE teacher). Pub culture is another main factor. Pubs are uniquely British, and don’t really exist in the same way anywhere else. Pubs traditionally serve as a meeting place, somewhere to socialise and congregate. Which is all well and good but what if I don’t want a pint of warm ale? I have no problem with pubs but I do think London’s lack of late night options is problematic. It’s also kind of ridiculous that anything past 6pm is considered late night. We are not a nation of party animals, staying out all night, constantly active every hour of the day. We like to squeeze as much as possible into a few hours. That’s how we invented binge drinking. Drink as much as you possibly can in the space of three hours, then stagger home to get the train. In bed by 11pm, by which time Central London will be completely dead. London pretty much shuts down from 6pm, and good luck doing trying to find somewhere decent to eat open past 11pm. What I’m really driving at is coffee shops not staying open in the evening. But then maybe no one wants caffeine past 7pm.

London – the city that sleeps 8 hours a night.

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Why

If I didn’t hate The Smiths this would be called Restaurant Workers of the World Unite.

Having been a service industry worker for over six months, I’ve been thinking about why people get into working here. Here’s the thing – Food with a capital F is now a Thing with a capital T. People love eating out, reading about eating out, watching television shows about eating. We now not only have the kind of celebrity chefs that are on TV but also a lower tier of chefs that are celebrities to people into Food. See your boy Rene Redzepi. A celebrity for the Food people. The last couple of years have seen the Food world grow to what it is today, where broadsheets can get away with writing about Food being the new rock and roll or some other hackey bullshit. Chefs are celebrated. Restaurants are celebrated. It’s a wonderful fertile time. But there still seems to be a prevailing attitude that working in a restaurant is Bad (capital B). There are so many great places to eat in London so who’s staffing them? There must be some people who enjoy it as a job, rather than settling on it as the only job they can get.

For me, my thought process went as follows – I like Food, I like going out to eat, I hate my job in an office, why don’t I try working in an area I like. As a sometimes half-arsed at best food blogger, there’s a fairly logical next step going from blogging about food to working in food. Music bloggers want to work in the music industry. #menswear bloggers want to work in #menswear. It follows that a food blogger would want to work in food. It’s modus ponens or something. I think we’re at the point where chefing or cooking would be seen as an acceptable profession for the middle classes thanks to the way Food has developed and has become a Thing. And of course there is a class element that could be brought into to this because White People. But what about the non cooking jobs? You think restaurants are good but restaurant workers are bad? Is it wrong to aspire to a job in somewhere you like to eat? Let me put it this way – five years ago when everyone had a music blog and people cared about Hype Machine, your average blogger would have jumped at the chance to work for a record label and all they’d end up doing is stuffing CDs in envelopes and blanket emailing other bloggers streaming links. Warm cans of red stripe do not equal glamour.

It’s interesting that restaurant workers get little coverage. Considering how much time is spent covering the food itself, there’s little time spent on the people who are actually serving it to you. Maybe it’s to do with British guilt. British people hate to trouble anyone, and when it’s someone’s job to wait on you, maybe it’s easier to not think about them too much, so you don’t feel too guilty about the fact that they’re serving you. Maybe it’ll get covered more in the future, when everything that can be said about food has been said. Maybe no gives a shit about restaurant workers.

I think what’s important is to do what makes you happy. If you find a sense of job satisfaction in serving people fancy food, do that. If your idea of a good job is sitting at a desk and messing around on the internet all day, do that. Life’s too short. Just remember to tip your server.

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I Quit My Job

Alternatively titled “Thoughts On Working In The Service Industry.”

For the last two and a half  years of my life I was working in an office as an admin drone, doing meaningless tasks for not very much money. Not very different from pretty much any graduate my age that didn’t become a teacher. That was until about five months ago when I decided to quit my job and do something different, something new that I might actually enjoy or have some passing interest in. Which is where I have found myself now, five months down the line working in the service industry for an incredibly busy and incredibly popular restaurant. Whilst the job is harder in pretty much every single way compared to my old office job, it’s a lot more rewarding. The thing that always bugged me about my office job was the disconnect between what I did and the success and achievements of the company.

Every week we’d receive an office wide email about some award the company had won, or some new sales target that had been met. Every couple of months there’d be a company outing where the directors would tell us about the exciting new developments and projects that were coming up in the next six months. And the next day we would all go back to our desks to do exactly the same thing we did yesterday. If the company was turning such a profit why were we not all making more money? The staff discount is not a good benefit if you do not like what the company deals in. (Aside from socks. I got a lot of socks at a very good price). If the company was doing such exciting things, why were we all still looking at exactly the same spreadsheets? There existed a very real disconnect between what I was doing, and the success of the company. For all I tried to do something, no-one ever seemed to want to help. Of course, part of this can be blamed on me but if the there is no carrot on the end of the stick, then what’s the point in trying? When the only difference between your lunch break and your actual work is the size of your Internet Explorer window maybe you need to question your day job. At first doing nothing and getting paid for it posses a certain appeal but after a while it becomes incredibly depressing.

If nothing I did at my old job affected the company, my new job is the exact opposite. Every single action of every single person can be directly traced to the success of the restaurant. It’s a doubled edged sword – you can immediately see when you’ve done something well but also see when the whole operation has fucked up and ruined someone’s night. In my old job I never saw the customers, never saw the relationship between my work and their enjoyment. Now there’s a direct relationship between the two. It’s infinitely more rewarding for the most part. Obviously ever job has it’s downside, but let’s not talk about that. Of course this is my first job in the service industry and I’ve not been here for that long so there’s still time for me to grow to hate dealing with customers, the hours and my co-workers. But for the time being, being able to see that I’m making at least some impact with my work is far better than feeling like you’re completely disposable.

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Drinking Iced Coffee

My intentions to blog more have obviously not come to fruition, partly because I have no drive, but mostly because I have a new job. That may become a post in itself at some point. In the meantime, I have decided to attempt to offer a round up of some of the iced coffee options on offer in London, for no other reason than giving me an excuse to spend all my money on iced coffee. I really like iced coffee.

When I first set out to drink all the coffee, Britain was balls deep in a heatwave. Unfortunately, summer is now over and the rain is back which makes this post very poorly timed. But all is not lost – it’s still relatively warm and coffee shops still have backlogs of day old coffee to get through. Iced coffee season is not over. Most good places offer a take on what we’ll call an iced latte – shot of espresso served over iced, then cold milk added. Simple and effective. The more adventurous are doing cold brews. Below is a run down of the four best places I’ve been to.

119 Lower Clapton (Lower Clapton Road, Hackney)

119 Lower Clapton is at the forefront of the gentrification of Clapton, which is bad. On the other hand, it’s a nice coffee shop around the corner from my house, which is good. What can you do? Drink iced coffee. 119 Lower Clapton’s iced latte was quite milky, maybe too milky, but was a generous serving and not too expensive. Their cold brew was better, a nice rounded drink. Plus the service is good, which is all too rare in London. Did I mention it’s right by my house?

Pacific Social Club (Clarence Road, Hackney)

Pacific Social Club in Hackney serve an iced latte as standard, but give themselves an edge with the addition of horchata. A syrup made of vanilla, cinnamon and rice (if Wikipedia is to be believed), it gives the coffee a strong taste of cinnamon and a hint of what my pretentious side will describe as notes of brown sugar and burnt caramel. It’s nice but if I’m honest it is a little sweet for me. That said, it’s a very clever take on the iced latte and fits perfectly with their image and shop. Major kudos for doing something different. Plus you get a nifty swizzle stick with your drink.

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Tapped And Packed (Wardour Street, Soho)

Tapped And Packed offer both an iced latte and a cold brew. Their iced latte comes served in a jam jar. Make of that what you will. It’s quite sweet, and reminds me of a milkshake for some reason. Currently it’s the best I’ve tried. Their cold brew is a lot more involved. They’ve posted something on their Tumblr explaining the process (of course it’s Japanese) which involves slow extraction using cold water. It comes pre-bottled, similar to what Stumptown in America do, but it’s far less potent. As someone who enjoys black coffee, complex Japanese techniques and gadgets, it’s my go to choice.

Prufrock (Leather Lane)

Like most good places, Prufrock offer both an iced latte and a cold brew. I have not tried the iced latte, but I have been informed it is very nice and it does not come served in a jam jar, so that’s a plus. I have tried their cold brew and it is very good. It doesn’t come pre-bottled, and I’m not entirely sure of the brewing process but I would guess it’s a filter coffee brewed directly over ice (another Japanese technique). It’s delicious, which is no surprise as they are London’s best coffee shop. My pretentious side will say that it had notes of berries. Great drink, great place.

Now listen to this, but replace “black coffee” with “iced coffee”. It works. Kind of.

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Why Food Needs Hipsters

There is a sea change happening within the world of culture. Broadsheets and highbrow television channels are no longer striving to cover the hottest new music, the most daring art show. They are now all struggling, grasping for that first bite of the proverbial apple that is the newest greatest thing for popular cult. And that thing is food. Food is hot. Food is now. And with every review, every write up of every new restaurant you can guarantee two things: the smug knowing that the reviewer has covered major new ground and a diatribe against that harbinger of cultural doom, know only as the hipster. Here’s the thing that the reviewers, the writers, the columnists don’t realise – you need us, the much-maligned hipster. Without us, you are nothing. You are lost, rudderless in an ocean of directionless opinions, like a confused middle-aged couple in a no-reservation small plate Italian bàcaro on a busy Friday night.

We fill your restaurants and coffee shops, artisanal bakeries and cheese mongers, taking up seats. We talk of chefs like school children trading football stickers. “He used to cook at Momofuku Ko?” “She staged at Noma and St John?” “His parents are who?” These are our champions, our idols. We are their disciples.

Whilst you were sneering at the chicken shops that line East and South London, when you relegated fried chicken to the lowest of the low, the regretful, post pub, post club, 3am binge of gristle and bone, we were on the frontline. We had our Big Portion Chicken. We had out Perfect Fried Chicken. How we consumed, all in the name of research. We ignored the scorn and now, thanks to our bravery, our willingness to go where you would not, you can now enjoy friend chicken in the safe environs of a popup in a West London pub, surrounded by other likeminded middles class norms. No need to brave the streets of Brixton or Hackney, no, thanks to us you can enjoy junk food Guardian friendly pub. When AA Gill complains about the clientele of a new tasting menu spot in Shoreditch do we respond? Do we listen to Giles Coren’s confused rants? We just ignore their cries for attention, we’ve already moved on. Onto the next spot, where the conversation flows and the drinks are not at all reasonably priced, but they are made by a mixologist. God forbid they are made by a bar tender. When you complain that something is cuisine du blogger, we just smile politely. You fear progress, you fear new ideas. We embrace the change, the mistakes. We know how food is changing, as we are the change. We’re the ones demanding the sauce be served on the side. And when you ask for the sauce on the side, we’re already finding new ways to present the sauce not only on the side, but as a foam or a brick or a gas or a unicorn or whatever can be done to scare you. And it will be cooked sous-vide

You may talk about cool, you may discuss trend, but we live it. Every day in our life is cool. Look at our beards. Look at our tattoos. Look at our haircuts and our hats. Look at us; marvel in our beauty. Are we not sublime? Are we not ridiculous? You may ridicule, but deep down, you know you envy us. You envy our very being – our hipness. We remind you of what you were, what you could have been. We are you, but only better. We have more money. We have better taste. We have less money. We have worse taste. We are absolutely broke. We have no taste. We eat out every night, or we can never afford to go to the places that do not want us. You complain when we take up tables at your new favourite restaurant. But how would you know if it was your new favourite restaurant if we were not there to test it? If we were not there, how would you know it was new? We were there, in the car parks and the industrial estates, before you ever thought about the possibility that something as lowly as a burger could be considered food. We were there before the broadsheets, and the colour supplements. We were there.

You complain about queuing. You complain about not being able to make reservations. We have no reservations. We were in line, in the queue before you even considered tossing aside your 2 for 1 Pizza Express voucher. We’re always in front of you in the line. We’ll be there, patiently waiting, telling each other that it’s worth it. “The wings are awesome – they’re confit, they’re smoked, they’re totally worth it”. It is always worth it if we decide to go.
You think we’re being ridiculous but we’re not. Think about it – if food is the new music, the new art, how do you know what is good, what is new? How do you know what to like? How do you know what’s cool? Us, motherfucker. Us. We are the barometer of goodness, of excellence, of hotness. If we do not go somewhere then you will never know to go there. We make them, then we break them. We are pop culture. We are its oxygen, its life force. And now we are food culture. And you love us for it.

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Monocle Cafe

Without a doubt, the Monocle Cafe is the fanciest coffee shop I have ever been to. I think it is probably the fanciest coffee shop in all of London, but maybe Chelsea has somewhere that serves cappuccinos in solid gold cups. I don’t know. What I know is that the Monocle Cafe is ridiculously nice looking. If you’ve ever read Monocle this probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It’s obvious a huge amount of effort has gone into the design and interior, with everything being either of Scandinavian or Japanese origin. Even the toilet is one of those weird mechanical Japanese ones. The Japanese theme runs through to the service, with each drink being served on its own little tray, complete with Monocle branded napkin and chocolate. It all looks very nice, and pretty much everything is for sale, so you can make your kitchen look like part of the Monocle brand. It’s a lifestyle.

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Of course, the most important aspect for a coffee shop should really be the coffee. Product before design. Yet for how nice everything inside is, the coffee isn’t that great. It’s not bad but given how much effort has been put into everything else, it feels like they could have put a little bit more effort into the actual product. The other odd thing about the coffee is that every drink costs £3. Not for the fact that that’s the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve had in London (the Monocle lifestyle does not come cheap, as expected), but the fact that an espresso and a cappuccino costing the same amount makes no sense. Are they getting their milk for free? Are they getting charge loads by Allpress for their beans? I don’t understand. Maybe this is how much things cost in Marylebone. Did I mention everything looks really nice?

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As an extension of the Monocle brand, the cafe succeeds in making you want to live inside their world of odd racial fetishism and brand obsession. It’s aspirational to a point. Personally I would aspire to have better coffee, but I have no objection to furniture from Truck or £20 coffee cups. As a coffee shop it probably isn’t a destination in the way that say Prufrock is, but in terms of design and interiors it’s one of the nicest places you’ll find in London. It certainly makes a change from exposed beams and filament light bulbs. Selectism have far better photos than I do. You can really appreciate how it’s been curated.

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Sodo Pizza Cafe

In my last post I talked about the gentrification of Clapton which is happening right before my eyes. One of the signs of the continued gentrification of Clapton, aside from me living here, is a new pizza place. Step forward Sodo Pizza Cafe.

Born from a pop up (isn’t everything these days?), they opened on Upper Clapton Road at the end of last year, offering one simple thing – sourdough pizza. I say simple, but good pizza is actually very hard to do. Bad pizza – that’s easy. Mediocre pizza still remains the goal for most Londoners. I have a lot of time for pizza. It’s one of the few things in life that even when it’s bad, it’s good. I am not above pizza. Due to the varying quality of London’s pizza joints, I rarely go out for it, instead choosing to stay at home with a Sainsbury’s Finest pepperoni and a sense of shame. Franco Manca is one of the few places worth going to. Sodo Pizza Cafe is another.

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Sodo offers four pizzas, plus a revolving special. The special I had was topped with anchovy, capers, parsley, olives and chilli. To be honest, they could have stopped listing ingredients after anchovy – I’m all about those salty bastards. There are three things that make up the pizza – toppings, sauce and crust. The aforementioned toppings were all very good, and the chilli packed a surprising amount of punch. The sauce was also very good, not too sweet and also packed a bit of a punch, which makes me think they could be slipping some chillies in there. Also makes me think that I shouldn’t use the phrase “packs a punch” in two consecutive sentences, but I’m digressing. The real test is the crust. As I explained to one of my friends that the best way to check how well a pizza is cooked is by looking at the bottom of the base (yes I’m that guy) I saw the chef do exactly the same thing. A mark of me being a dickhead. Or a mark of quality. Or both. Not that you can tell from these photos.

Not only were the pizzas solid, the dessert was pretty damn great as well. I can safely say that the tiramisu I had at Sodo was the best tiramisu I have ever eaten. It should be noted that most of the tiramisu I’ve eaten before was pre-packaged, ready made stuff. I’ve actually been served a still frozen piece at a place in Sheffield. It’s not there any more. Don’t look for it. The affogato was also very nice. Whoever is doing their dessert deserves major props. Food aside, one of the best things about Sodo is that they take bookings, which may not sound like much, but in this day and age, for a small trendy restaurant it’s definitely not the norm. It means you can actually make a plan to go out for food instead of having to factor in queueing time. Food aside, it’s the little things that make a difference and Sodo has a lot going for it. Great pizza, great dessert, friendly staff, an interesting beer selection (that’s a thing now). That it’s local to me only makes it better. If Clapton develops the way I think it’s going to, you’ll probably be thinking about making a trip up here by this time next year. Why not beat the broadsheets and the yummy mummy’s and try it now.

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